Richard Mulrooney's game-tying strike in the 79th minute Saturday night in Spartan Stadium was as stunning as it was important. The sixth-year Quakes midfielder scored his fourth regular season goal. That is four goals in 145 games and 12,584 minutes, proving that one doesn't need to score a goal more often than once every 3,146 minutes to be a most valuable player. (Richard does have one goal in 10 playoff games - the goal that put the Quakes up 3-1 in their 4-2 MLS Cup win last November.)
While it's almost inexplicable that Richard doesn't score more often, he does have a lot to do with the scoring. He's around the ball often, though not often inside the penalty area. He takes more than half of the team's corner kicks, one of the many reasons he is the club's all-time leader in assists, with 41.
"It's a matter of opportunity, I guess," says Mulrooney, who was the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. "Being in the midfield, I don't get into the box very often. When I do get shots, they're longer and the percentage isn't very high."
In fact, four out of five of Mulrooney's goals have come from outside the box. "We don't want him to change the way he plays for us," says coach Dominic Kinnear. "Look at Ronnie Ekelund in his first year with us, 2001. He didn't score a goal and had two assists, but he was very valuable to us in winning the championship."
Mulrooney is the only player this year to play every minute of every game. He and Brian Mullan are the only players to have started all 12 games.
"His work ethic is contagious," Kinnear said. "The other guys follow his lead, in games and in practice."
Mulrooney has emerged as one of the team's leaders, wearing the captain's band on nights when Jeff Agoos does not, as was the case Saturday in the 1-1 draw with the Wizards. (Agoos was serving a red card suspension.) Mulrooney says it means a lot to him to be considered the de facto assistant captain.
"When Jeff is on the field, he is the captain. I wouldn't want the band when he's there. But when he's gone it means a lot to me that Dominic sees me as a leader, on and off the field," he said.
While he appreciates the suggestion that he is the hardest working guy on the field, Mulrooney respectfully defers to a fellow former Creighton Bluejay, Brian Mullan. "Look at him," says Mulrooney. "I feel like I do half the work he does."
Mulrooney and Mullan share more than an alma mater. Along with a handful of others, including the Quakes' Brian Ching, they carry the flag for the deepest pool of talent in the history of American soccer. They are high quality U.S. national team prospects on the outside looking in; players who have had a sniff at the team, but don't quite make the final cut. Mulrooney has had more exposure than most and is still waiting to make his mark.
"I've been happy just being called into camp," he says. "There are a thousand kids who would love to be where I'm at, either with the Quakes or the national team. I've tried to do my best and feel good about my situation."
His road roommate, good friend and national team star Landon Donovan says it's been tough watching Richard's plight.
"I'm pulling for him so much because I know he deserves it," said Donovan. "When you have Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, Chris Armas and Pablo Mastroeni, it's hard. Richard is kind of paying his dues right now, waiting his turn and I think eventually it will come."
Mulrooney waits but doesn't worry.
"If I get called into the team, and get to play one day in the World Cup, it would be great. If not, I'll work just as hard. You can't let it rule your life, you go day by day."
The 27-year-old Memphis native has a long-term contract with the league and the Earthquakes, making a commitment to Major League Soccer.
"I don't always think the grass is greener on the other side," he said. "I didn't see a need for a change at this time."
Kinnear said: "It's nice he's signed up for the long run. The players, management and fans can count on Richard being here."
And while he's here, cherish every one of the goals he scores.
"Any way I can contribute, I'm happy to do so," Mulrooney says, in typical self-deprecation. "Usually it's with an assist, but it's nice to get a goal here and there."
Every 3,146 minutes or so.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.